Marquette features perhaps the most dynamic guard in the conference in the form of ultra-quick Dominic James. Although generously listed at five feet, eleven inches and 175 pounds, the sophomore sparkplug fearlessly ventures all over the court, and can score off the dribble or by spotting up behind the three-point line. His 16.1 points per game average leads the team, and while he certainly gets his share of shots away, he's also a dangerous drive and dish penetrator, as his 81 assists attest. He is almost impossible to guard one-on-one, and when a second defender slides over to help he typically finds the resulting open teammate for an open shot.
Jerel McNeal and Wes Matthews team with James to give the Warriors perhaps the best backcourt in the league. The pair smacked heads in practice recently, causing McNeal to miss a game, but both appear ready to go against the Mountaineers. McNeal (So., 6-3, 195 lbs.) tosses in 14.9 points per game, and leads the team with 58 steals. He is also a good rebounder for his size, totaling 4.5 boards per contest. Matthews (So., 6-5, 215 lbs.) is the biggest of the trio, and thus is better equipped to help inside. He averages 11.7 points and 5.7 rebounds per game.
In the frontcourt, Senegal native Ousmane Barro (Jr., 6-10, 245 lbs.) provides much of the muscle. With the guards dominating the ball, Barro probably doesn't get as many shots as he should. He is hitting 60.4% of his tries from the field, but averages just 8.1 points per outing. He is also the team's leading rebounder (6.7 per game), and has rejected 22 shots on the year. He was dominant in Marquette's win over UConn on Wednesday, recording a double-double and taking over the game at times.
Lazar Hayward started against the Huskies and is expected to again take that spot against WVU. The 6-6, 215-pound freshman isn't playing a lot of minutes in that role, however, and is averaging 6.6 points and 3.9 rebounds in fewer than 16 minutes of game action per night. Jamil Lott (Sr., 6-7, 225 lbs.) has started 11 of Marquette's 18 games this year, and could also slide back into a starting role in place of Hayward. Even when he doesn't start, he gets appreciable playing time, but averages just 2.5 points and 2.2 rebounds per game.
Top subs include designated shooters Dan Fitzgerald and David Cubillan, who have combined to make 42 of 97 three-pointers. Fitzgerald (Jr., 6-9, 205 lbs.), a sometime starter at forward, gets 18.9 minutes per game off the bench, while Cubillan (Fr., 6-0, 170 lbs.) betters that mark with 19.4 minutes of action per game as a backcourt substitute. At the other end of the spectrum, forward Dwight Burke (So., 6-8, 245 lbs.) provides little offense but lots of enforcement help on the defensive end. He averages one foul for every six minutes of action while scoring just 14 points on the season.
West Virginia must find a way to keep James from penetrating, but it certainly won't be an easy task.
|Sat Jan 13|
WVU 13-2, 2-1
MU 14-4, 1-2
|Sirius Channel: 123|
WVU - 42
MU - 63
That strategy will likely extend to all three of Marquette's starting guards, as none shoot better than 27.7% from beyond the arc. Fitzgerald and Cubillan are the designated long-range shooters in the offense, but they don't present the drive and dish problems that the starting guard trio does. The challenge for the Mountaineers will be to recognize which players are in the game and have the ball, and adjust their defensive tactics accordingly. If James, Matthews, and McNeal can dribble penetrate against the Mountaineers' signature 1-3-1 zone, it will be a long afternoon in the Bradley Center for the visitors. WVU could also deploy a 2-3 zone to give Marquette a different look and force them to shoot more from the outside.
Although still early in the season, this game is an important one for both teams as they battle for early positioning in the conference. Marquette, expected to contend for one of the top four spots in the league and a bye in the first round of the Big East tournament, would love to get back to .500 in the league. They will certainly be riding high after knocking the Huskies off on the road. West Virginia, on the other hand, wants to prove it can record its own resume-building road win, and will be looking to show it learned lessons from the mistakes that resulted in a loss at Notre Dame on Wednesday. While a loss certainly won't be devastating to either team, the one that comes out the winner will certainly have a nice bit of momentum from which to build.
Although head coach John Beilein certainly wouldn't lose or gain any sleep over it, a win would also help West Virginia hold on to a Top 25 ranking. A split of two tough Big East road tests should keep the Mountaineers in the Top 25, while another loss, no matter the type, would likely see WVU fall from the polls. While the polls matter much less in basketball than football, being included does result in a bit more publicity, more recruiting ammunition, and increased pride in the program.
MU: Jerel McNeal (Head) Will Play
It's surprising to see a guard-dominated team be more proficient at scoring in the lane than from the three-point line, but that's the case with Marquette. The Golden Eagles make just 30.7% of their shots from downtown, and only Cubillan is a consistent shooter from that range. The Golden Eagles also struggle at the free throw line, hitting just 62.4% of their chances from fifteen feet away.
The juxtaposition of the strategies of each team should make for an interesting matchup, as West Virginia's defense tries to keep Marquette outside, while the Golden Eagles will likely guard aggressively at the three-point line to force West Virginia to put the ball on the floor and drive.
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The home team has won all four games in the series. WVU owns the only league win, defeating Marquette when it visited the Coliseum last year. In that game, the Mountaineers set a new school and Big East record by making 20 three-pointers in the 104-85 decision.
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Head coach John Beilein professes a preference for an eight-man rotation, but he has made some adjustments to that thinking. After seeing last year's team wear down under a heavy load of minutes played (Kevin Pittsnogle averaged 36 per game, Mike Gansey 33.8 and Jo Herber 31.3), no Mountaineers is averaging more than 30.6 per outing (Darris Nichols) this year.
Some early blowouts meant less court time for the starters, which helped depress their averages, and the tough conference games to come will likely build them back up, but overall it looks as if the starters might see a couple of fewer minutes per game by the time the season is over. That doesn't sound like a lot, but it could mean a bit more gas in the tank for the Gold and Blue come tournament time.
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After a high-profile start, which included a 15-point game against Slippery Rock, the perception has been that freshman Da'Sean Butler's play has slipped. That view, however, is more off the mark than a Shaquille O'Neal free throw. The Newark, N.J. native has been contributing in many other ways, and still has solid numbers in scoring and rebounding. Butler, a slippery rebounder who snakes past bigger opponents to get to the ball, has 22 offensive boards, which is second-best on the squad. His 9.3 points per game is good for fifth on the team, and his defensive ability at the point of the 1-3-1 defense gives West Virginia more options on that end of the floor than it had a year ago.
Against Notre Dame, Butler snared ten rebounds – the first time a freshman reached double digits in that stat since Damian Owens turned the trick on Dec. 17, 1994, against Virginia Tech. It's appropriate that Butler tied Owens' mark, as many aspects of their games are quite similar.